Jess and I walked into the local deli and waited for the family in front of us at the register. A middle-aged woman with a makeup job like Mimi from The Drew Carey Show ordered a ham sandwich. Her son, a lanky tweenager in sweats and white socks with mandals, chose a breakfast sandwich from the menu before spinning around and barreling into us on his way to the drink cooler, walking away without apologizing. He was holding his mother’s large, expensive handbag for her, as if she couldn’t possibly be burdened with it during the ordering process.
The daughter, a stocky young woman with unruly strawberry hair and a belted print dress which can only be described as the cross-eyed Chernobyl baby of the Fresh Prince’s school uniform blazer and a Magic Eye poster, shared her mother’s unfortunate penchant for MAC products. She sashayed up to the counter and ordered as much with her dramatic hand gestures as she did with her mouth.
“Yeaaaaahhhhhhh, I’m having a VEGGIE sandwich on a SPINACH bagel, hold the onions. And a pickle. AND A PICKLE.”, placing selective vocal emphasis on the healthiest sounding ingredients of her order, ensuring that all three people in the restaurant were well aware of her sensible dietary choices.
Deciding to pick out our drinks before arriving at the register, I walked over to the cooler and slid one the glass doors open to grab a Coke and a Nantucket Nectars Half and Half. As I slid the door shut, I looked to my left and noticed the girl wearing the garment industry’s visual interpretation of schizophrenia waiting for me to step aside with her arms folded across her chest, a sigh of regal indignation whistling through her nostrils.
When it came time to pay, the growth spurt ravaged son hulked back over with the giraffe testicle sized handbag, which the mother rummaged through until she was able to procure a card. After being handed a receipt, the family walked over to a table in the sparsely decorated dining area, and sat together while their order was made.
I turned to Jess and gave her my well rehearsed “are you seeing this?” look, thinking it would only be greeted with her age-old “please don’t talk about this until we get into the car” face, but it was clear she’d been taking the whole show in along with me, and was equally fascinated by it. We shot each other a half smile, and approached the register to make our order.
Waiting at the pick-up counter for our food, neither of us could help stealing occasional glances at the family, who were completely silent at their booth; the son engrossed with his smart phone, the daughter fiddling with her feral twists of hair, and the mother staring out the plate glass window. They sat like that for several minutes, not one word being spoken between them. Their shift from obnoxious to eerily restrained was so violent that it was impossible not to casually speculate about it, especially when bored and waiting for sandwiches ourselves. Were they fighting in the car on the way to the deli, and were staying quiet to keep from re-erupting in public? Were they one of those strange military families that employs strict no speaking rules at the dinner table? Were they just British and incapable of conveying emotion to each other? Were they —
“One breakfast sandwich, one veggie sandwich on spinach no onion and a pickle, one ham sandwich. Your order is ready.”
QuasiBroDo bolted up and lumbered over to the pick-up counter. Instead of taking everybody’s food back to the booth like a human being, he grabbed only his sandwich from the tray and sat back down, leaving the other two sandwiches behind.
Without hesitation, DressPilepsy shuffled out of the booth and angrily pumped her way over to the pick-up counter, while her socially inept brother gnawed on his breakfast sandwich like a caveman scraping the last scraps of cheek meat off of a moose skull.
She picked up the tray with the remaining two sandwiches with one hand, and began walking it over, when the toe of her flip flop caught on a chair leg, pitching her forward and sending the tray clattering to the floor, just inches from the family’s booth.
Every head in the restaurant craned to get a better view of the commotion. The contents of the sandwiches were scattered over a comically wide swath; a tomato here, a slice of onion there, a lone pickle rolling down the tile floor like a wheel from an exploding car, finally coming to rest against the far wall.
Doing my best no to gawk at the carnage and risk the chance of being thought of as insensitive, I spun around and pretended to read the menu on the wall. After enough time had passed that I couldn’t chance staring at the menu any longer without being thought of as illiterate, I turned to Jess, who wasn’t even attempting to hide the fact that she was watching the sister and brother on their hands and knees, peeling slabs of deli meat off the floor. The mother’s heavily painted face remained emotionless in the wake of her sandwich’s demise, so much so that it gave us reason to believe there might be an ill-gotten prescription for pain medication rattling around in her expensive handbag.
Jess and I took our order from the counter when it was ready and walked out to the car, content in knowing that while the human condition is largely chaotic and unfair, witnessing the occasional example of life exacting justice is enough to keep you trudging through the years with a smile on your face, or at least enough to keep a couple of jaded New Englanders laughing all the way home.